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I haven’t written a proper blog entry in quite some time, for several reasons.

I changed my website to a blog format back in 2005/6 so I could relate my experiences as an American expat living in Latvia, and for about a year or so I was able to write about my experiences here with a kind of virtual (pun intended) anonymity, partially shielded by my writing in English and partially shielded by my outsider status here in Latvia. I wasn’t a known commodity, and was thus below many local radars. My audience (such as it is) was American. Or at least in my mind it was. But over time, I realized that sure enough, people here in Latvia were reading my commentaries. And those that discovered it and could read English were of course willing to translate for others if it seemed appropriate. I said nothing particularly scathing (well, maybe a little, but never personal), but I was still trying to write honestly. As time passed and I’d had good professional experiences as well as bad ones, I began to feel constrained against writing about the warts.

Here’s an SAT style analogy for you: The New Music community in New York is to archipelago as The New Music community in Latvia is to Melrose Place.

Reason number two: Since I moved here, I got remarried and had two kids. Nothing takes time away from things that feel even a little bit peripheral than that.

Anyway, I say all that to say this: I have a big project involving lots of tech stuff in the works, where I’d like to open up the process a little bit and also benefit from the experience of others who may care to share their advice or guidance. I’ll leave the actual beginning of that topic to the the next entry. Until then.

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Mezzo Soprano Christina Dahl, along with pianist Thomas Buur, will give the Danish premiere of my So, We’ll Go No More a-Roving, a setting of a text by Lord Byron, on Tuesday, September 8 at 7PM at the Kulturcenter Kongensgade 111 in Fredericia, Denmark.

I met and worked with Christina this July in Norberg, Sweden at the Networking Camp for Composers and Musicians (see my earlier post, Nätverksläger för tonsättare och musiker at KlackbergsgÃ¥rden, in Norberg, Sweden, July 27-August 1).

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The following reviews are of the San José Chamber Orchestra’s performance of my Weaving Olden Dances: Concerto for Chamber Orchestra that took place at Le Petit Trianon Theater (72 N. 5th Street) in downtown San José, California on Saturday August 29, at 8PM and Sunday August 30, at 7PM.

By Paul Hertelendy, the independent observer of San Francisco Bay Area music and dance
Week of Aug. 31-Sept. 7, 2009
Vol. 12, No. 5
Read the full review here.

The clever idea of a commissioning consortium enables several groups around the country (and not just one) to present a new work om concert. The San José Chamber Orchestra opened its season with the West Coast premiere of New Yorker Charles Griffin’s “Weaving Olden Dances,” part of a merry-go-round taking the dances to four different venues spanning both coasts. It’s a big 31-minute, four-movement work of modern sounds laid over traditional forms—a well-made piece avoiding the expected clichés.

Griffin, 41, enters skillfully into disparate realms. An agitated timpani opening suggests an action movie, giving way to a perpetual-motion ostinato that the composers says was inspired by the gamelan. The Pavane section that follows is lovely, escapist romanticism soaring skyward. The third movement is the most overtly dance-like, with the orchestra parroting the broad strums of the flamenco guitar running through modes as well as the beat of the zapateado dance—a latino tap dance without the tap shoes. The finale, after Irish models, is a joyous noise rushing to a climax. The format idea is derived from the dance suites so prevalent 300 years ago.

There were various solos within this concerto for orchestra, none more notable nor more praiseworthy than on viola (Eleanor Angel) and cello (Lucinda Breed Lenicheck).

Altogether, “Weaving Olden Dances” is an effective work with definite audience appeal. And Music Director Barbara Day Turner led it with high energy, nuance and consistency.

By Gary Lemco
The Classical Music Guide Online
Read the full review here.

The musical surprise came in the form of Griffin’s four-movement Concerto for Chamber Orchestra, which might be a distant cousin of pieces like Cowell’s Persian Set. A sort of Baroque dance-suite, the music opened with a Trance Overture, in the manner of the gamelan orchestra of Bali, percussive, chiming, clangorous, brash, and declamatory. Long pedal points punctuated the interlocking rhythmic impulses. Some might have thought this music composed by Villa-Lobos. The second movement, Pavane, sounded like a medieval “chest” or “consort” of instruments, utilizing a concertante violin to intone a 13th-century cantus firmus called Novus Miles Sequitur. The third movement, Tierra de luz, Cielo de Tierra, enjoyed a concertante cello opening. The music became quite syncopated, often touching upon the world of Ginastera”˜s Estancia ballet. At its climax, the music became a fugue in flamenco style. The last movement, Weaving Olden Dances, began with a viola that lisped in Irish accents, inviting us to a fierce gigue or reel that incorporates Sean Nos and Appalachian dance elements, allusions to the music for Braveheart and Aaron Copland. Almost every member of the orchestra had a virtuoso, solo run or riff to offer the color of his contribution. Eclectic it was certainly-so even Bartok may have had a hand in it-ending with something like a sea-shanty in Technicolor. But, that it was a successful vehicle for Turner and her SJCO there could be no doubt.

By Richard Scheinin
San José Mercury News
Read the full review here.

The bulk of the program’s first half was devoted to a new work by Charles B. Griffin, a native New Yorker who lives in Latvia. A nomadic, international sensibility informs his “Weaving Olden Dances: Concerto for Chamber Orchestra,” which draws inspiration from Indonesian, French, flamenco and Irish/Appalachian dance forms.

Commissioned by a consortium of American orchestras (including the San Jose Chamber Orchestra), the work unfolds in four movements.
The first echoes the jig-sawed structure and rhythms of the Balinese gamelan; its highlight is a sinuous and long-lined solo for violin (Cynthia Baehr, here), composed in the manner of Lou Harrison. The second movement, a Pavane, built from a 13th century hymn, is lushly elegiac. The final movements, respectively, draw on flamenco and Celtic melodies – rhythm-charged, but remarkably generic, as if inspired by World Music 101 classes.
Hats off to Day Turner (who has devoted much of her career to performing music of living composers) and the orchestra’s many soloists (i.e. Bruce Foster, such an expressive clarinetist) for giving this piece a shot.

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The San José Chamber Orchestra’s Season Opening Concerts will feature pianist Jon Nakamatsu playing Mozart’s Piano Concerto #21 in C major, and the West Coast premiere of my Weaving Olden Dances: Concerto for Chamber Orchestra.

These performances, led by conductor Barbara Day Turner, are part of a series of performances by various American chamber orchestras who co-commissioned the piece. The concerts will take place at Le Petit Trianon Theater (72 N. 5th Street) in downtown San José, California on Saturday August 29, at 8PM and Sunday August 30, at 7PM.

Ticket prices are $30-$45 ($10 students) and can be ordered on line at:

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Commissioned by Liepājas Osta (The Port of Liepāja) to commemorate the reconstruction and reopening of the Karosta Swing Bridge, Between Islands, a new electroacoustic work for trumpet will be performed by Olexijs Demchenko and me on August 28 at the site of the Karosta Bridge as the two parts of the swing bridge are reconnected for the first time in two years. The performance will take place at 6:30, following a 5PM processional from Rozu Laukums in the Liepāja city center to the bridge site.

The bridge is a uniquely designed swing bridge, and was completely destroyed by a ship two years ago, just short of what would have been the bridge’s 100th anniversary, and destroying the main access-way between the main city of Liepāja and the district of Karosta (the Naval Port in the region during the Soviet Era).

Between Islands is scored for Bb Trumpet and both prerecorded and live electronics. The prerecorded electronics were created or manipulated with Apple’s Logic and Propellerhead’s Reason software programs, and I will process the audio signal from the trumpet in real time using Korg’s Kaoss Pad 3.

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At a conference in Helsinki in October 2008, I met Swedish composer Martin Larsson, who told me about a pilot project he was running in Norberg, Sweden with guitarist Patrik Karlsson called Networking Camp for Composers and Musicians, a 5-day intensive workshop where 5 composers and approximately 25 musicians come together. The composers each write a new piece every day for some combination of musicians, followed by an evening performance of the works and a final concert some months later in VästerÃ¥s Concert Hall. Geared toward post-graduate professionals and not limited to contemporary classical music, it’s an opportunity to explore, to simplify, to step out of one’s comfort zone, and to expand one’s network.

I invited Martin and Patrik to come to Latvia and speak to members of the Latvian Composers Union about the possibility of expanding this project so that participants could apply from throughout the Baltics and Scandinavia with the goal that the camp would next take place in Latvia, with me as the local administrator. We successfully applied to Kulturkontakt Nord for €10,000 to hold the camp outside Liepāja, Latvia in the summer of 2010.

This July I will go to Sweden as a composer participant so I can experience the camp first-hand. All the better to administrate next year, my dear.

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GastesiBezerraDuo The Piano Duo Gastesi-Bezerra will perform the entirety of my suite of pieces for piano four-hands From the Faraway Nearby, inspired by paintings by Georgia O’Keeffe in Brazil in July.

On July 18, the duo returns to the beautiful Pinacoteca Benedicto Calixto in Santos under the auspices of the Centro de Expansão Cultural. The program will also include Mozart’s Variations in G Major, Edino Krieger’s Sonata, Mendelssohn’s Variations in B-Flat Major, Debussy’s Petite Suite and and a new work by Dinah Menezes.

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One of my projects this past year has been the preparation of a Powerpoint lecture series on American music for the American Embassy in Latvia. I prepared 5 90-minute presentations, on Classical, Jazz, Blues, Rock and Hip Hop. I have now been invited by the American Embassy in Lithuania to give the lectures there. I will lecture in Kaunas on May 5 (Lithuanian Music & Theater Academy); in Vilnius on May 6 (Lithuanian Music & Theater Academy); in KlaipÄ—da on May 11 (Klaipeda University); and in Å iauliai on May 13 (Å iauliai University).

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Women’s chorus perfects each note
Choral Artists present powerfully varied concert

By Tom Strini of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Posted: Feb. 15, 2009

Sharon Hansen had an opinion about every last note at Saturday’s Milwaukee Choral Artists concert. The micro-managing conductor conveyed her opinions in clear, amazingly detailed gestures. They got instant, satisfying results from her 17 female singers.

It made no difference that Hansen, recovering from foot surgery, conducted from a wheelchair. The concentration and commitment on both sides was palpable in the cozy nave of St. Matthew’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Wauwatosa. Watching them interact is almost as great a pleasure as hearing the remarkable music they make.


Their singing was intelligent and beautiful without fail throughout an engaging and varied program. Arrangements of two Debussy songs gave them a chance to do what they do best of all, which is tune and balance complex chords so finely that the harmonies glow like a sonic aurora borealis. Vaughan Williams’ “In Windsor Forest,” a substantial suite drawn from Shakespeare, showcased Hansen’s firm grasp of larger forms. “Old Devil Moon” and “That Old Black Magic” (smartly arranged by Choral Artist Paula Foley Tillen) showed that swing comes as naturally as anything to the MCA.

Music for a small women’s choir is little-known country for most of us, so MCA concerts also afford the pleasure of discovery. This time, the revelations were Alice Parker’s delicate, filigreed “A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Fairy Songs”; Eric Whitacre’s “She Weeps Over Rahoon,” a sensual setting of James Joyce, in which slithery vocal and English horn (nice work by Karli Larsen) lines overlap like serpents in love; and, most of all, Charles Griffin’s “El Paso de la Siguiriya,” on a dark, dreamy Federico Garcia Lorca poem.

“El Paso” is a flamenco a cappella fantasy with episodes of rhythmic clapping, melisma inflected in the Andalusian way and choruses in Spanish dance rhythms. Mezzo Rebecca Davies was ravishing in the solo that is the soul of this piece. She must have listened to a great deal of flamenco singing to prepare; she was at once elegant and earthy.

Much of the choral work in “El Paso” is in free rhythm. Hansen shaped it with a soloist’s latitude. Seventeen voices responded, and the choir became a single voice.

E-mail Tom Strini at

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